A horror of childhood thought is being trapped somewhere and not being able to communicate and tell people seeking you where you were. For adults the horror is somewhat different – suppose you were in what appeared to be an unconscious state, unable to communicate. You were able to see and hear those outside your body, but they thought you were in a senseless vegetative state – in a deep coma. While you know that you are alive, the onlookers believe that you are already as good as dead. The makings for a horror story, yes. Fiction? No!

Who is he:

Born in South Africa, in 1975, Martin is a writer. His book Ghost Boy is based on his experience when as a young teen he became paralyzed and remained in a coma for 3 years. He is also a web designer (even though he remains without the use of most of his physical motor systems.

Why you should listen:

His is a story of strength, courage and ultimately hope. It shows the tenacity of a family that presses on when all hope seems gone. It is also a grim warning for those who plan to practice medicine – things might not always be as they seem.

Discussion questions:

  1. Do some research on sensory deprivation and solitary confinement (used in prisons). In what ways were his experiences similar and how did they differ?
  2. When he was in his so called “vegetative state” people saw him as the person they expected him to be. Describe this person that others saw.
  3. Because his parents were burned out from so much care giving they were unaware of the abuse that he was receiving, or that his mental state was becoming restored. What response would you have expected from him when he heard his mother say, “Why don’t you just die”?
  4. He has regained some motor function for his arms and hands. How does this help him to feel more fully human?
  5. According to Martin Pistorius, communication is the quintessential element that makes one human. What does he believe about communication? Are there some elements that are not part of what he expressed (after all he seems to be focusing on linguistic communication)?
  6. One in 5 marriages now begin with online relationships. Do you truly think that you can come to know another person solely though their words?


Making connections:

Here is a CNN news report on Martin’s life prior to the video that you saw in this Ted Talk:



How my mind came back to life and no one knew with Martin Pistorius


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